Wednesday, August 19, 2009

20000 leagues under the sea tribute : Part one : The WDW extinct submarine ride

Here is the first part of a 20000 leagues under the sea tribute.

Today, let's remember the beloved and now extinct Walt Disney world 20000 leagues submarine ride with great photos and a video of the ride itself. Please click on each pictures to see them in big size.

In 1959 the Disneyland submarine ride opened along with the Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Monorail. As the Disneyland submarine ride became extremely popular with guests, Walt Disney Imagineering began to work on an even more ambitious version for what would become Walt Disney World. However, it was not going to be a simple ride clone. The idea was to make as best use as possible of the larger space the company now owned in Florida, and what became 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea did indeed do just that. At 11.5 million gallons of water throughout, it would be one of the biggest and most expensive Disney attractions ever conceived.

Below, a wonderful painting by Leo Svendsen for the WDW 20000 Leagues ride.

Despite the best efforts of the construction and installation teams attached to the 20,000 Leagues project, the attraction would ultimately open two weeks after the Magic Kingdom due to infrastructure problems with the lagoon. On October 14 1971 however, the first guests boarded one of the twelve (the ride is sometimes cited as having fourteen, which would be correct if counting the two submarines grappling with Giant Squids on either side of the track) submarines to take the ten minute voyage of discovery that would cover the surface of the earth from underwater, without ever leaving the state of Florida.

The completed attraction covered almost a quarter of Fantasyland, with the lagoon and caverns-hidden show building surrounded by palm trees and volcanic rock, meant to evoke the impression of Captain Nemo's Pacific Ocean base Vulcania. A storage facility at the back of the show building served to house submarines removed from the main line during day-to-day operation, and also included a dry dock for repair work.

Along the shores of the lagoon, small beaches were built, one with a chest of abandoned pirate treasure.

One of the signature pieces of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea was the fleet of twelve passenger vehicles, adapted for theme park use from Harper Goff's Nautilus design for the 1954 Disney live-action version by Disney Imagineer George McGinnis. The basic hulls were constructed by Morgan Yacht in Clearwater, Florida, with the final building work being transferred to Tampa Ship mid-way through. This massive project was overseen by another veteran Imagineer, Bob Gurr. Upon delivery at Walt Disney World in August 1971, the vehicles weighed some forty tons, and were installed into a concrete guide (track), mounted on top of a mechanism to limit "bumping" accidents.

The attraction vehicles were not actual submarines, but instead boats in which the guests sat below water level. The interiors were a mix of metal paneling, rivets and bolts, as well as Victorian-esque fittings in the form of passenger seats that can flip outwards, and arm rests beneath the portholes, in keeping with the Harper Goff concept from the 1954 feature film. Each "guest" aboard the Nautilus had his or her own seat, as well as a round porthole to look out into the attraction. A small button located in the porthole recess was intended for defogging the window if needed, but this rarely worked.

Above the seating area was the sail (As it was known to the employees) where the "helmsman" stood and controlled the vehicle's operation. The "diving" effect that became so much of a part of the ride was actually produced by bubble machines located throughout the attraction, as well as using the waterfalls at the entrance to the show building.

Despite the extensive 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea overhaul the attraction was given, essentially it was still the same as its Californian counterpart Submarine Voyage, in both its underwater show scenes and narration, except for a few occasional differences.

The adventure began as the guests made their way down into the back of the submarine, bending to miss the low-level raised rear hatch, and finding a place onboard. Throughout the voyage, an eerie organ version of the Disney film's main theme would play on a never-ending loop, allowing for a narration backing as well as a piece of stall music if required. Following the standard Disney-style introduction and safety notes from the helmsman, the narration would be switched on and the voice of Disney voice artist Peter Renaday doing an impression of James Mason's Captain Nemo would fill the interior.

With the submarine clear of the dock, the diving sequence would begin, with hundreds of air bubbles filling the porthole view, creating the illusion of descent. Once clear, the Captain introduced himself to his passengers, and then introduced them to the underwater plains around Vulcania. In the lagoon, guests could see moray eels, crabs, lobsters, sea bass, clams and turtles as well as a host of smaller, tropical fish.

Minutes later, in another tribute to the Disney film, an "underwater party" of divers would come into view, as animatronics wearing replicas of the Harper Goff-designed deep sea diving equipment worked kelp beds and wrangled with rebellious turtles.

With the bubbles from the waterfall at the cavern entrance simulating a surface storm, the Captain would order the submarine down into the depths as a precaution, and the guests enter the show building section of the attraction. Within minutes, the devastation such natural phenomenon can create was made clear with the ominous Graveyard Of Lost Ships, with shipwrecks from various centuries littering the sea bed, guarded by the silent, gliding figures of sharks.

Leaving the destruction behind, the Nautilus would reach the North Pole, circumnavigating the Polar Ice Cap from below the surface, and narrowly avoiding large icebergs stabbing through the water. Venturing deeper, the Nautilus entered the eerie world of the Abyss, where guests viewed examples the many weird and strange species of deepwater fish that thrive in such an environment.

Rising slightly, one of the final discoveries made is the ruins of Atlantis, along with a typical Disney-fied sea serpent, accompanying mermaids, and a treasury bursting with jewels and gold. With the ruins of the ancient civilization soon left behind, the Nautilus would enter the final phase of its journey, with a tribute to the most iconic and memorable part of the 1954 Disney film: The attack of the giant squid. After seeing a much smaller sister Nautilus trapped in the clutches of one such creature (Curiously marked XIII on the tailfin), the passenger submarine would be attacked itself by long, thrashing tentacles.

With a final push to the surface, the Nautilus would clear the caverns and the dangerous squid, and enter the safety of the tropical lagoon, on its way towards the dock.

20,000 Leagues became as much of a part of the Magic Kingdom as any of the other attractions that remain there today, and the idea of it being closed struck many as being untrue. When the attraction closed on September 5 1994 "temporarily", it was assumed that Captain Nemo and his crew would soon be sailing again. However, the Nautilus submarines sat silently exposed on the lagoon to park guests until 1995, when the vehicles were removed to be transported to the backstage areas of Walt Disney World.

In 1996, a couple of props such as the sharks had been removed from the caverns, while plastic coral and sets were removed from the lagoon and eventually destroyed or sold on Ebay. Walt Disney World announced that the attraction was never going to re-open.

Despite many protests and complaints, the ride remained derelict. The infrastructure was abandoned, however the long green queue building was re-themed to serve as a character "meet n' greet" called "The Fantasyland Character Festival". The empty lagoon slowly lost its tranquil clarity, and the exotic palm trees and volcanic rock around the lagoon area would be slowly removed over the years. The show building was abandoned in place, with the complete show scenes and several major animatronics remaining underwater untouched and to rot for about a decade.

In 2004, Disney finally announced that the skeleton (lagoon and caverns) of the attraction would be completely destroyed, and the land reclaimed for an unspecified future project.

Now we know that most of the new Fantasyland expansion will be build there and although the lagoon don't exist anymore soon WDW visitors will go back "under the sea" thanks to the Little Mermaid ride!

And now let's dive again one last time with this great video of the full ride!

Don't forget to come back tomorrow for the part two with a special artwork from the movie itself!

Thanks to leave a comment or discuss this article on D&M english forum on Mice Chat

Photos: copyright Disney

Text: Thanks to Wikipedia

You tube Video: Thanks to widenyourworld!


Anonymous said...

it's very sad that this attraction closed. It was my favourite as a child and is my strongest memory of Disney World.

Matt said...

what a huge loss. I suppose because it probably was one of the costliest rides to maintain with one of the lowest guests/hour stats, in addition to the space it required, doomed it when the corporate stronghold overtook the creatives in the 90s. really too bad. maybe if they wouldn't keep selling off so much land, they wouldn't keep having to tear down and rebuild.

thanks though for helping me to relive one of my favorite childhood memories.

DisWedWay said...

I remember this attraction had opened by the time I came aboard, and the veterans from Volcania and Captain Nemo had many tales about it's installation at the new Disneyworld. Years later they would battle corporate to save Disneylands Submarine ride and see Nemo ride again. It is too bad they couldn't wait and install the new attraction at Walt Disney World as well. If I ever get to the Bahamas I will look down upon one of the surviving Nautilus's. It's interesting to remember when Tom Sherman came back after a trip to Disneyworld and showed us pictures of all the Nautilus Submarines lying in the boneyard where non used park items went. He was so excited and wanted to know if he could purchase one. At least he brought 2 back to the Disney parks.

KevGuy said...

Wow, wish I could have went on that ride before it closed. What are these people thinking that closed it down. Pathetic...

Bas said...

Hey guys, ai worked for at WDW the last few months and it might be nice to know that one of the subs is backstage at EPCOT. Behind the soarin building. Not sure what its doing there... nut its there for sure. Never noticed it was from this ride, till i read the article Alan!

DisWedWay said...

Perhaps that Nautilus might find it's voyage into the New Little Mermaid attraction in an Imagineering way.